Bloody Crimes

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Bloody Crimes:
The Chase for Jefferson Davis and the Death Pageant for Lincoln’s Corpse

By James Swanson
Morrow, $27.99, 464pp.

In the modern media era, we have become accustomed to every Democrat presidential candidate being considered smarter, more sophisticated, and urbane and accomplished than his Republican counterpart.  From Eisenhower and Stevenson, to Kennedy and Nixon, Reagan and both Carter and Mondale, certainly both Bush presidents and each opponent they faced.

But it started with the very first Republican president, according to the latest compulsively readable history from James Swanson, who burst onto the scene with his terrifically exciting bestseller, Manhunt: The 12 Day Chase for Lincoln’s Killer, which won an Edgar from the Mystery Writers of America.

While Lincoln never stood for election against Jefferson Davis, Swanson thinks that it is likely Davis would have won had he been the Democrat nominee.  With Lincoln having reached demigod status in most Americans’ minds now, it’s hard to imagine that by Washington D.C. standards at the time, Davis, an experienced and well-spoken Washington hand, West Point graduate, war hero and successful businessman (even if it took slaves to make it happen) would have been considered a much more accomplished man than a plainspoken backwoods lawyer—with ties to radical freedom lovers.

Talk about the more things change…

Swanson’s latest book Bloody Crimes: The Chase for Jefferson Davis and the Death Pageant for Lincoln’s Corpse takes a more obscure, but nonetheless just as fascinating look at April of 1865 as his huge bestselling debut—and it’s such a great story, and obvious parallel, that I bet it has Civil War historians all over the country slapping their foreheads and saying, “Why didn’t I think of that?”  (Though in lesser hands, it might have come across as grotesque.)

Bloody Crimes follows the last major journeys of Lincoln and Davis—the magnificent funeral procession for the slain president that covered 1,600 miles and attended by millions of Americans; and the flight by Jefferson Davis, trying to slip away unnoticed into Mexico, even as his armies led by first Lee and then Johnston were surrendering.

While one might think that Davis’s flight from capture would easily be the best part of Bloody Crimes, the details of the Lincoln funeral procession are not only fascinating, they are a bit mind-boggling—and may constitute the most ingenious bit of political stagecraft in American history.

Secretary of War Edwin Stanton arranged for not only the biggest state funeral in nation’s history, he gave much of the rest of the country a chance to join in, with a 1,600 mile train trip with stops in every major city along a circuitous route from Washington D.C. as far northeast as Albany, before heading across the Midwest to Lincoln’s final resting place in Springfield, Illinois.

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  • Jim

    "not riding a huge wave of popularity after a long and bloody war, ironically, until his murder united the North"

    Like JFK it was a great career move eh whot

    • USMCSniper

      JFK accomplished many great things. He allowed the Russians to build the Berlin Wall, allowed the Russians to put tanks and troops in Eastern Europe, betrayed freedom fighters to the Communists at the Bay of Pigs, agreed to a USA hands off Cuba policy with the Soviet Union, got us into the Vietnam war, and of course ruined the steel industryhmmm… Marilyn Monroe's death….. hmmm. Yes sir a great man with man with many white house "Monicas."

  • jaythehistorian

    Jefferson Davis and Lincoln were faced with the worst crisis in American history, the breaking apart of the United States. Lincoln is highly regarded because he was able , in the end , to prevent the breakup of the Union. Davis' task was the lead the seceded states to independence. He failed in part because of his own character flaws. An example of Lincoln's wisdom was his ability not to allow his personal feelings about his generals interfere with his goal of keeping the Union together. George McClellan treated Lincoln like a servant and referred to him as the "Original Gorilla". Lincoln was quoted as saying about the insufferable ,incompetent George McClellan , "I'll hold McClellan's horse if he will bring victory. Davis, could not suppress his emotions enough to further the goal of Southern Independence. For example, he kept the incompetent Braxton Bragg in command after it clear Bragg was harming the Confederate cause. Bragg was a close friend of Davis.

  • minnieiam

    Re: IQ comparrisons….While doing genelogy research I found a letter in the PA Archives from the head of the Philadelphia Armory to Lincoln advising him that when the Philadelphia Minutemen were mobilized and sent to Baltimore at the beginning of the war, they had to report for duty with whatever personal weapons and ammunition each had because "That traitorous Bastard" who was Secretary of War in the previous administration had ordered the entire contents of the arsenal to be shipped to Louisana and then sold to the governor of LA. The Sec. of War in the previous administration was Jefferson Davis. So Jeff Davis transferred all the North's guns and ammo to the South knowing the South would cecede rather than pay the 25% increase in tarriffs on imported goods which Lincoln supported. Why has this been deleted from hisotry books? It would be difficult, if not impossible, to keep Abe Lincoln up there his Pedestal along side Jesus, if it were known that he was dumb enough to send him armies into battle without guns and ammunition. This explains why northern casualties were so much higher than the South's and why the south almost won that war in the first two years.